THE Scottish Government will set out the timing and potential question for a second independence referendum within the next few weeks.

Constitution Secretary Michael Russell told a meeting of Ayr constituency branches last week that the draft bill paving the way for indyref2 was close to publication.

He confirmed it will be published within the next six weeks, before Holyrood goes into recess ahead of the election.

Russell’s appearance at the meeting of the Ayr branches comes as they start campaigning for the local candidate for the Holyrood election, Siobhian Brown.

The bill was announced by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in the Programme for Government last September. She said it would set out the proposed terms and timing of the poll and establish the question to be asked.

Russell told the Sunday National: “We said we would publish it before the Parliament rose and we will.

“It is a very simple bill, there is nothing complicated about it. The key point is we have said we will put it in front of the people of Scotland at an election and they will have the decision on it.

“It is proceeding according to what we said, it is a simple short bill and people will have the chance to then decide what they want to do – that is democracy.”

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The Scottish Parliament has already passed the Referendums (Scotland) Bill, which provides a framework for how referendums should be run in Scotland.

Another key bill passed in February last year widened voting rights to anyone legally resident in Scotland including refugees and those granted asylum and some prisoners.

Russell said the forthcoming draft bill would be the third part which “opens the door” to indyref2.

“We will put it in front of the people and if people endorse it, that is what we intend to do,” he added.

“The challenge is then is the UK Government going to defy the will of the Scottish people?”

In September, Sturgeon said she would publish draft legislation setting out the question to be asked – subject to testing by the Electoral Commission – and the timescale for a vote.

She said that based on this “at next year’s election we will make the case for Scotland to become an independent country”.

The Programme for Government stated “if there is majority support for the bill in the Scottish Parliament in the next term, there could then be no moral or democratic justification whatsoever for any UK Government to ignore the rights of the people of Scotland to choose our own future”.

Last month Russell set out the SNP’s route map to a second independence referendum.

Under the plan, the Scottish Government will again request a Section 30 order from the UK Government if it wins the Holyrood elections in May this year.

A Savanta ComRes poll for The Scotsman last week predicted 71 SNP MSPs will be elected – which would be a majority in the 129-seat Scottish Parliament and up from the 64 they won in the 2016 election.

There has been much debate over what happens if Boris Johnson continues to say no – as he has insisted he will do.

The roadmap sets out the next steps of enacting a bill for a referendum even without the agreement of Westminster.

Then it will be up to the UK Government to either accept the Scottish Parliament has powers to legislate a referendum or it would have to take legal action to try and block it.

Meanwhile yesterday it was reported Downing Street is seeking to hire dozens more Union advisers as the Prime Minister begins to prioritise fighting independence.

The Union Directorate, which is being headed up by former Vote Leave chief Oliver Lewis, currently employs 15 people – but is looking to triple in size to as many as 30-50 team members, the Press and Journal reported.

It will replace the Union Unit, which was thrown into chaos when its only Scottish member was sacked earlier this month. Luke Graham, the former MP for Ochil and South Perthshire, reportedly left after a Downing Street row over strategy.

However, Number 10 has denied the Union Directorate is being created as a result of “panic” over independence support.